Last summer, I had the opportunity to visit Italy. I had been there before, but it was long time ago, and before I was vegan. This time, I visited Rome again but also had the chance to properly visit Sicily. The weather was hot, the landscapes were stunning, and the food was delicious!
You might be wondering: Isn’t Italy a disaster zone for vegans? I used to think so too. When I first went vegan, I was living in London. I attended a fancy private dinner at an expensive Italian restaurant for my friend’s birthday, where there is no menu, and the chef serves what he likes. When I announced that I was vegan to the wait staff, they decided that all they could bring me was fried cheese (obviously NOT vegan!) The very Italian chef eventually came out and demanded to know why I didn’t want to eat his food. Let’s just say that it wasn’t a great experience!
The thing is, many Italian foods are vegan already, or can easily be made vegan, without sacrificing flavor. I’ve compiled a list below that will hopefully interest you in visiting this wonderful country in the future.
Of course, you MUST eat pizza when you’re in Italy! If you’ve never tried proper Italian pizza, it’s not exactly the same as North American pizza. The crust is thin, the sauce is flavourful, and the vegetables are seasonal. If you order a pizza without cheese, you’re not missing much! I tried many pizzas on my last visit that were melt-in-your-mouth delicious, with organic, local mushrooms, and a variety of other fresh veggies. The gentleman sitting next to me heard that I was vegan, and we had a nice long chat about it during dinner.
Of course, ravioli or egg pastas are off-limits, but this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy delicious, fresh pasta! I made a point to ask before ordering if the pasta contained egg. Sometimes it did, but all the restaurants I visited had egg-free pasta options. If you’ve never had homemade pasta in Italy before, you’re really missing out! The sauces they use are also delectable, from fresh tomato sauce, to olive oil, to mushroom. One waitress practically hugged me when I said I was vegan, because she was also. She recommended an amazing dish that I enjoyed thoroughly. Just make sure you ask for no cheese on top!
Traditional bruschetta in Italy is not normally served with cheese. It’s made with fresh tomatoes, basil, garlic, and olive oil – that’s it! Since the ingredients used are fresh and from Italy, the flavours really come through. We visited a small café in Noto, which had no vegan items on the menu, but they were more than happy to make us a huge spread of vegan bruschetta with four different flavours! At the bottom of Mt. Etna (the volcano), I enjoyed two different kinds of arancini, which are deep-fried rice balls, which were specifically labeled “vegano”. They contained spinach and mushroom. Even in the middle of nowhere, you can be surprised at what you find.
I enjoyed so many fresh salads, cooked vegetable platters, and locally grown delicacies during my stay. Salads were simple, fresh, but most importantly, were super scrumptious with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar on top. Every “insalata mista” that I ordered was always vegan, and always tasty!
One would assume that all gelato is off-limits for vegans, but this is simply not true. Vegans are generally safe going with a fruit flavor or sorbet. Always make sure to ask if the gelato contains any dairy or egg (surprising, I know!) before ordering. I even discovered an amazing all-vegan gelato shop in Taormina, which used rice milk instead of dairy, and had gluten-free/vegan cones. Right across the street was another store, which had 5 flavours of soy ice cream. Don’t forget to try granite – a Sicilian sorbet made from sugar, water, and flavouring (what we would call a “slushie” in Canada), which you can find almost anywhere in Sicily. Magnifico!
Who would have thought that a small city in Sicily would be home to an all-vegan chocolate factory? In Modica, Sicily, we discovered Il Modicano, which just so happens to be an organic vegan chocolate factory. They make soya chocolate, dark chocolate, and agave chocolate as well as hazelnut, almond, and pistachio spreads. This chocolate was sold in every gift shop nearby, and local restaurants even incorporated it into their dishes. I tried a decadent dish of fried bread with Sicilian caponata, covered in shavings of Il Modica chocolate in the city of Catania. So good!
Although Italy doesn’t seem to be the most vegan-friendly country upon first glance, there are many delicious options available for everyone. The country is slowly waking up to the vegan movement, with more and more restaurants labeling things as “vegano,” and the general population becoming more aware of veganism. Book that flight now, and get yourself to Italy to enjoy some mouth-watering pasta and a glass of wine!